TW: antisemitism, murder, genocide, eugenics
The term antisemitism, coined by German reporter Wilhelm Marr in 1879, is the “prejudice against or hatred of Jews.” At the time, Marr extended the meaning of the word to also denote hatred for “various liberal, cosmopolitan, and international political trends of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often associated with Jews.” While the term itself was created in the 19th century, antisemitism can be traced back to biblical times. The descendants of Abraham who settled in Canaan became the people of Israel, also known as the Hebrews. The Hebrews were persecuted on and off for centuries for refusing to adopt the religions of neighboring Middle Eastern kingdoms.
After the birth of early Christianity in around 30 C.E., antisemitism evolved into more consistent, organized attacks against Judaism itself. Interestingly, when Christianity began, it was considered to be a sect of Judaism. After the Romans crucified Jesus, Jews and Christians “co-existed… sometimes peacefully, sometimes with animosity.” However, after the Romans chose Christianity as their established religion, they felt threatened by Jews who refused to convert, and consequently sought to wipe out the religion.
In the middle ages, antisemitism became a pattern of organized efforts to persecute the Jewish people through laws, racist stereotypes and violence. New legislation blocked Jewish people from marrying Christians, becoming government officials and even from serving as witnesses testifying against Christians in court. To make matters worse, antisemitic stereotypes depicted Jews as devils responsible for the murder of Christians, and the “blood libel” myth accused Jews of drinking the blood of Christian children.
During the Crusades of the early 11th centuries Crusaders intended to wipe out Muslims, but they destroyed Jewish towns and populations as well. Later, when the Bubonic Plague devastated Europe, Jews served as an easy scapegoat for Christians, resulting in 100,000 Jews being burned alive. By the 13th century, Jews were denied nearly all civil rights, were forced to live in ghettos and “were required to wear a distinctive symbol” — a practice that the Nazis would rekindle in the 20th century. Jews were forced into the money lending industry due to their lack of rights like owning property. This practice, also called “usury,” was banned by the Christian church and spurred even more stereotypes against Jewish people that still exist today, labeling them as “money-hungry and greedy.”
Modern antisemitism took form at the turn of 19th century around the time Marr coined the term. Phrenology, which claimed that the shape of the skull was correlated with traits like intelligence, targeted Jewish people and people of color by providing pseudoscientific justification for the racial superiority of white individuals. Social Darwinism: a theory arguing that the weakest members of society should be weeded out either naturally or through eugenics, gained traction at the same time, and would later become intrinsic to the Nazi ideology. The simultaneous development of these narratives, coupled with centuries of antisemitism, culminated in the Holocaust, the systematic murder and enslavement of millions of Jewish people. The Nazi party promoted the creation of a white Aryan race to rule the Earth. They sought to create this race by wiping out multiple populations, including people with disabilities, queer people, and Romani people. However, the Nazi regime specifically focused on eliminating the Jewish population of Europe. The Final Solution resulted in the death of 6 million people and the enslavement of another 1.6 million in horrid concentration camps.
After the Allied powers defeated the Axis powers, antisemitic sentiments were finally uprooted and Jewish people were safe at last — right? Not quite. Despite concerted efforts in Germany to squash antisemitic expressionism (such as laws banning holocaust denial and hate speech), antisemitic incidents have been on the rise in recent years. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League revealed that “2021 was the highest year on record for documented reports of harassment, vandalism and violence directed against Jews.” In the U.S., incidents of antisemitism tracked by the ADL nearly doubled from 2011 to 2020, and the ADL identified a whopping 2,717 incidents in 2021 — a 34% increase from the previous year. According to experts, antisemitic sentiments and incidents also correlate with a rise in overall hate crimes; experts refer to antisemitism as a “canary in the coal mine” for overall hatred, as the targeting of one minority group tends to lead to a resurgence in attacks against Jewish people.
2021 had the highest number of antisemitic incidents in decades, but such events have been on the rise for years. One tragic example of the rise in antisemitism is the 2018 shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue. On the morning of October 27, a man entered the synagogue during morning services and shot 17 people, killing 11. The perpetrator had posted antisemitic remarks online prior to the attack, including one message on the alt-right platform Gab, stating: “HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” The following year, the FBI arrested a man for planning to bomb a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado. The suspect was identified by online posts in which he made remarks about killing Jews, including a video of him scouting out the Pueblo synagogue. In one Facebook post, he wrote, “I wish the Holocaust really did happen …. they need to die.”
Antisemitic beliefs are also invading politics and pop culture. A number of congress members have been linked to the white nationalist Nick Fuentes, who once called progressive movements like LGBTQ rights “bastardized Jewish subversion of the American creed.” Former President Donald Trump had dinner with Fuentes, and U.S. Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar spoke at an event hosted by the white nationalist. Kanye West, a celebrity made famous for his music but now infamous for his antisemitic hate speech, also attended the dinner with Trump and Fuentes. West has made a number of recent antisemitic remarks, such as praising Hitler on a podcast and posting an image of a swastika encasing the Star of David on Twitter. West has faced immense backlash for his remarks, including being banned from Twitter and losing his deal with Adidas, but he still has plenty of loyal fans who are undoubtedly influenced by his actions.
Antisemitism has also become more prevalent in Germany. Due to rising antisemitic sentiments among the population and even in the government, the city of Dresden declared a “Nazi emergency” and pledged to combat antisemitism. Antisemitism is especially terrifying due to how persistent it has proven to be; after centuries, anti-Jewish stereotypes and hatred have not only persevered, but thrived. It is important to note that antisemitic beliefs and acts of violence are not only perpetrated among fringe far-right extremists, but are actively cultivated by the normalization of antisemitic beliefs in popular culture and government officials. If celebrities like West and leaders like Greene continue to openly espouse antisemitic beliefs, the wellbeing of millions will be at stake once again.